Thanks to your handy smartphone, you can contribute to scientific endeavors while you’re traveling or exploring natural areas near your home.
More and more smartphone users are becoming so-called “citizen scientists” using their phones to capture photographs, sightings and other data about the natural world and submitting it through scientific websites and apps. This is a great way to feel like you are contributing to the study and protection of wildlife and natural places.
How to get started? Download these four apps to kick start your amateur science career.
The Project Noah app aims to build a comprehensive data bank of wildlife sightings. Despite the fact that the app crashed a few times on my phone upon download, the interface has a clean design and is easy to understand.
Use Project Noah’s GPS-based “Field Guide” to learn more about wildlife around you that others have spotted and identified. For example, one contributor visiting Washington, D.C., logged red maple, American elm and white oak trees growing on the White House lawn and a red-tailed hawk flying nearby. If you spot something you don’t recognize, just snap a picture, tag it with certain details such as where you saw it, and community members will help you identify the species.
The coolest feature is the manner in which you can take part in field missions; your contribution helps organizations collect data for their research projects. Whether you are in your backyard or overseas, you can find a field mission suited to your location. Galapagos Biodiversity supports the Charles Darwin Foundation, which designs conservation strategies based on species data, such as habitat condition, behavior and movement. If you plan on traveling to the Galapagos, have your smartphone and this app handy.
Platforms: iPhone and Android
Loss of the Night is a citizen science project that tracks light pollution around the world. Scientists use the data to understand the effect light pollution has on health, biodiversity and the quality of life, among other topics. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research collects the data.
Once you activate the app, it guides you step by step. As you point your phone into the sky, the screen maps out constellations and asks you to find a star. If you can see the star, it will direct you to find a dimmer star. Based on the stars you are able to see this app tells how much light pollution is in the area.
Use this app with your kids or grandkids and learn constellation names in addition to contributing data. If you’re planning international travel, compare the night sky and presence of light pollution in your backyard to the canopy of stars on your African safari, for instance..
The Marine Debris Tracker helps researchers from the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration track the types of trash you find near coastlines and waterways. The app is sparse and lacks the visual design elements that can make tracking fun but it definitely gets the job done. After clicking “Track Debris,” you can select from a list of items such as food wrappers, aerosol cans and fishing lines. It also asks that you enter the quantity, an optional description and photo. It will automatically log your GPS coordinates but if you’re out of Wi-Fi range, you can save your data and submit it once you have internet access.
Platform: iPhone and Android
WildObs allows you to record your wildlife observations in most of North of America, learn about new animals and create your own wildlife calendar. The app works offline, so you can save your sightings and then automatically upload them to the WildObs server once you have Internet access. WildObs is mainly focused on education and helping people enjoy nature though researchers do extract data from recorded encounters to contribute to scientific studies and programs.
WWF’s Tania Segura also contributed to this report.